"What can be romantic to Mike Watt?" This question is from the song "One Reporter's Opinion." It first appeared on Double Nickels on the Dime, the Minutemen's acclaimed 1984, 45-track, two record release; often named among the best and most influential albums of the 1980's. At the time of the song's recording, this query may have seemed rhetorical, as the band was an integral part of Los Angeles's explosive early punk and hardcore scene. By 1984, The Minutemen - - Mike Watt on bass, guitarist D Boon and drummer George Hurley - - had already earned a reputation for fierce, rapid-fire performances. Their songs were abrupt gusts of genre-bending music, with concise, satirical lyrics that probed and skewered topics like Reagan era politics and commercial popular culture. Yet nearly 30 years later, this question continues to haunt Watt, although it's long been freed of any presumed irony. In the intervening years, it has become increasingly evident that much of this bass player, songwriter and "spieler's" life is in fact very romantic to Mike Watt.
His passions are observable in everything. It's heard in Watt's musical signature - an extraordinarily lyrical bass playing style - a singular sound that leaps from any of his many recordings. It's visible in his mystical veneration of the natural world, revealed by equally allusive photos of seagulls, sea lions and sunrises taken during his daily "crack of dawn" biking and kayaking excursions in San Pedro, California, his beloved hometown. (Some of these exquisite images were the subject of a 2010 solo exhibition, "Eye-Gifts From Pedro" at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, and are part of his book, On and Off Bass, Three Rooms Press, 2012). His romance extends to the ordinary, too, observable in the way he describes his state of mind, meals, gigs, friends and daily activities in his compulsively detailed tour diaries available on-line since 1997 (before the term "blog" was coined), on his self-built and meticulously maintained website: hootpage.com, which he launched in 1996. Watt is a cultural omnivore. Especially over the last decade, his openness (and eagerness) to devour new musical experience has become increasingly audible (and visible) in the dozens of projects and live performances he's participated in with artists as divergent as Yoko Ono, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Petra Haden and Kelly Clarkson.
With the songwriting and recording process freed from terra firma through digital technology and internet file sharing, Watt's been able to contribute bass to recordings by friends and fans from all over the world, who have contacted him through email and social media. He's also sought the partnership of musicians he's encountered on his own: through his (since 2001) web-based radio series "The Watt from Pedro Show," or met on tour, particularly since 2003 when he began playing bass with the perpetually globetrotting Iggy and the Stooges. These opportunities have yielded several ongoing collaborations, including multiple recordings with members of the Japanese band Migu and England's The Go! Team. To accommodate this explosion of creativity, in 2011 Watt launched a new label, Clenchedwrench, his first DIY imprint in almost three decades. Its first release was Hyphenated Man, the third of his "operas," in March 2011. The label has since released Dos y Dos, the 4th (Mike Watt and Kira Roessler) Dos album (2011) and Speilgusher (2012) with poet, rock critic and Blue Oyster Cult lyricist Richard Meltzer. La Busta Gialla by Il Sogno del Mariano, a trio pairing Watt with Italian musicians Stefano Pilia on guitar, and Andrea Belfi on drums, and several more collaborative recordings are scheduled for release in 2012.
Hyphenated-Man was written for The Missingmen, a trio whom he had toured with since 2005 that included guitarist Tom Watson and local Pedro drummer Raul Morales. This opera was unlike the others, in that its narrative had no specific dramatic arc - no typical libretto. The way it was recorded was also unusual, with Watson and Morales recording the guitar and drums in the spring of 2009 at Tony Maimone's Studio G in Brooklyn and in spring, 2010, Watt adding bass and vocals, with Maimone serving as a co-producer. Much to the delight of old and new fans alike, the album evoked the nimble sound and fury of the Minutemen, more than anything Watt had recorded since that band's untimely demise more than twenty-five years earlier. As of early 2012, Watt's artistic endeavors continue to diversify and multiply, with many different recording projects anticipated to take form this year, including Mouthful, recorded recently in Memphis, Tennessee, and a debut by "Emma Goldman Bust-Out Brigade" with jazz stand-up bass player Devon Hoff and Matt Chamberlain on drums. And Watt's expected to tour with the Stooges, the Missingmen and Il Sogno del Mariano. He's also scheduled to play the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in Minehead, England, in a rare duo appearance with George Hurley doing Minutemen songs. As always, Watt persists in exceeding, defying and confounding musical (and other) expectations: the truly romantic embodiment of an authentic punk rocker.